Increased diversity marked by some conflicts

2011-04-03T00:00:00Z Increased diversity marked by some conflictsBy Marisa Kwiatkowski, marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

An increase in Calumet Region diversity hasn't quelled race-related conflicts and the growing pains that come with them.

Dozens of parents berated the Hammond School Board last year, arguing their children were discriminated against, targeted for discipline and suffered physical and mental abuse at Clark Middle/High School.

And members of the region's Hispanic community are fired up about illegal immigration legislation being considered by the Indiana General Assembly.

In the Hammond schools' case, the U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights intervened at the parents' request and mediated the conflict.

Peggy Dellahoussaye Harrington, director of bilingual education and cultural diversity for the School City of Hammond, said the district agreed to intensive training for its staff and instituted a formal complaint process in response to parents' concerns.

Complaint forms in both English and Spanish are available in all district buildings and are addressed by the Human Resources Department, Harrington said.

Harrington also proposed a plan to create groups in every school building to study diversity issues, demographics and incorporate diversity topics into the school curriculum.

Shirley Trinidad, one of the parents who filed a complaint with the office of civil rights, said the district has not followed through on its promises. The Hammond resident said she pulled her daughter out of Clark Middle/High School and placed her in a charter school because of a "hostile environment" at Clark.

In another matter, some region Hispanics believe a proposed state Senate bill relating to illegal immigration is racially motivated and targets members of their community who are legal U.S. residents.

State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, authored the bill to encourage illegal immigrants to voluntarily return to their native countries. He said he "absolutely" supports legal immigration but believes taxpayers' dollars shouldn't subsidize those who are in the U.S. illegally.

The bill has many components, one of which would allow police officers to contact federal authorities to check the citizenship or immigration status of anyone they stop, no matter the violation.

Lake Station-based immigration attorney Patricia Vargas called the bill an "assault" on the Hispanic community.

"We have large African, Asian and European immigrant populations, but this bill is targeting us -- Hispanics, Latinos and Mexicans in particular," she said. "It's insulting."

Delph said the language of the bill makes it clear it cannot be used to target any particular racial or ethnic group.

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